My answer to the question I posed above is a resounding ‘Yes’! The churches’ condemnation of CAMA 2020 as far as it concerns them, is justified. As Nigerians, they are entitled to voice their displeasure at a legislation they deemed as targeting them for wrong ends. And rather than ignore them, especially if we accept that they form a bloc whose share within this nation state is big enough to command some attention, then care must be taken to dispel their fears and suspicions of government’s motives, if these are truly unwarranted.
I must state from the outset that I recognize the sensitivity of an issue as contentious as religious matter in Nigeria, especially within the context of an increasingly insensitive government. Yet, there is no gain saying that Press freedom and freedom of speech have served us well in this country and any loss of these fundamental rights can only spell doom for all.
Quite significantly, I find an immediate inspiration in the well-known post-war confessional prose of Martin Niemoiler (1892 – 1984), the German Lutheran pastor who wrote about the cowardice of German intellectuals in the face of the Nazis’ rise to power – who subsequently eliminated their targets, one after the other.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me
Now, to the subject matter. CAMA is the acronym for the Companies and Allied Matters Act. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had in a published statement vehemently rejected a revised 2020 version of this Act which was signed into law recently by President Muhammadu Buhari. Of relevance to their stand is Section 839 that states “the CAC may remove and replace the trustees of a CSO if it determines that it is in the interest of the public to do so”. The CAN saw the new law as a backdoor reintroduction of a rejected National Assembly Bill which had similarly sought to accord government the right to appoint leadership of any NGO (in this case the church) and determine the tenure of their boards.
It is perfectly okay to feel some sense of indignation at CAN’s stand. There is no contesting the power of government to formulate decrees that it consider necessary for law and order and in the overall interest of the people. If every interest group must insist on accepting only laws that it considers suitable, we would be creating other problems altogether. So why then should CAN imagine it could dictate which laws of government to accept or reject? More so, isn’t this law a replica of what obtains in the UK and other climes?
First, this is not other clime. This is Nigeria with all her well-known peculiarities. Perhaps there are no perfect systems anywhere, but very few Nigerians would argue that here, instruments of state can, and have severally in the past, been used to achieve ends totally different from their declared intendments.
Second, there is a deep distrust of government by the people in a general sense. Having been largely let down by successive governments on critical issues regarding their wellbeing, people now tends to see government as largely self-serving. It is imperative that those in power continues to make visible efforts towards building this trust, so that its policies can enjoy overwhelming embrace.
Third, religious matters here remain weighty, made ever so combustible by many factors within our political and socio-cultural set up. We just can’t be hypocritical about this, we all know the structure of the church makes them far more likely to be most adversely affected by this law than any other group so targeted by this law.
And why is religious issue so sensitive here? Ask President Mohammadu Buhari why he, being a muslim, chose Pastor Tunde Bakare and Prof (Pastor) Yemi Osibajo back-to-back at different points in his quest to secure the presidency through broader electoral appeal. He found it critically necessary to dispel the widespread rumour within the Christian community that his candidature carried with it an Islamisation agenda. I was one of the many Nigerians who voted for the president and defended his best intentions everywhere I could. If the voice of the church mattered then for electoral purposes, it should matter still now.